Online booking companies Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Expedia are fueling and profiting from war crimes by listing hundreds of destinations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
TripAdvisor is one of the world’s biggest and most influential travel booking and recommendation websites.
“The Israeli government uses the growing tourism industry in the settlements as a way of legitimizing their existence and expansion, and online booking companies are playing along with this agenda,” said Seema Joshi of Amnesty International, which has published a new report on the companies’ activities.
Listings include accommodations and attractions, and often fail to indicate that they are located in settlements.
“Amnesty International is calling for these four companies to stop doing business in or with the settlements,” Mark Dummett, an Amnesty researcher, stated. “They should suspend, withdraw these listings immediately.”
“We’re also calling on governments around the world to regulate the operations of these companies, to pass laws that prevent them from advertising or providing listings in Israeli settlements,” Dummett added.
All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law and are considered a war crime.
In building settlements, Israel perpetuates human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian population, including home demolitions, forced displacement and theft of land.
The increased presence of illegal settlers means a greater “security” presence by the Israeli army, which translates into even more violence by Israeli occupation forces and by the settlers themselves against Palestinians.
Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation and severe movement restrictions in the occupied West Bank – or as refugees in exile – cannot rent properties in nearby Israeli settlements.
Israel bars exiled Palestinians from returning to their homeland because they are not Jewish.
Israel’s high court has given the government a green light to demolish Khan al-Ahmar and forcibly displace its residents.
This land east of Jerusalem, in the so-called E1 zone, is where Israel plans to expand its mega-settlement of Maaleh Adumim, completing the isolation of the northern and southern parts of the West Bank from each other and encircling Jerusalem with settlements.
Earlier this month, Israel’s economy minister Eli Cohen toured Khan al-Ahmar escorted by representatives from far-right pro-settlement Israeli organization Regavim.
Cohen called on Israel to demolish the village before upcoming Israeli elections in April.
“Khan al-Ahmar outpost should be evacuated before the elections. But even more important, we must deny the Palestinian Authority territorial contiguity, by coming and annexing, and applying [Israeli] sovereignty over Area C,” Cohen stated.
Area C is a term for 60 percent of the occupied West Bank still fully controlled by Israel under the Oslo accords signed in the 1990s.
The booking sites also drive business to Israeli “archaeological” attractions in Silwan, an occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood whose Palestinian residents Israel is violently displacing for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
Amnesty noted that Silwan and other Palestinian villages located near settlements are close to “lucrative” tourist attractions.
An example is the so-called City of David, which not only reaps profits for the settlers, but is part of Israel’s ongoing effort to erase Jerusalem’s Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim characters and remake and rewrite the city’s past and present as predominantly or exclusively Jewish.
Calls to abide by international law
In a December letter, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and three other organizations demanded that Booking.com stop listing properties in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Golan Heights, and cease referring to these areas as parts of Israel.
Airbnb and Booking.com facilitate the “continuation and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank,” Al-Haq stated.
“By allowing tourists to make reservations in illegal settlements in the [occupied Palestinian territories] Booking.com is supporting and helping to finance illegal activity,” the group added.
Airbnb leaves West Bank
In November, Airbnb announced that it will delist units in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank following a years-long campaign by Palestinian and international human rights activists.
But Airbnb did not extend that commitment to occupied East Jerusalem, where it has more than 100 settlement listings.
“Amnesty International is calling on Airbnb to implement its announcement and remove all its listings in settlements in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem,” the human rights group stated.
Despite months of intense pressure from Israel, lobby groups and US lawmakers to rescind its decision, Airbnb recently reiterated its November announcement and said it would be pulling the rental properties.
In retaliation, Florida’s governor has directed that his state should cease doing business with Airbnb.
The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah appeared on Al Jazeera English on Wednesday night to discuss Amnesty’s report.
“Promoting and aiding and profiting from the settlements is no different from walking into a store, robbing it at gunpoint, and then going out into the street and selling the stolen goods for your own profit,” Abunimah said.
Abunimah added that states – such as the Netherlands, where Booking.com is based – must hold these companies accountable.
“The Dutch government claims to oppose the occupation but it’s doing nothing to enforce international law or require its companies like Booking.com to respect it.”
Expelling human rights organizations
Israel is already planning to retaliate against Amnesty International over its report.
Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan ordered officials to “examine the possibility of preventing the entry and stay of Amnesty International in Israel.”
Erdan is also seeking to end the organization’s tax exemption through Israel’s finance ministry.
Israeli tourism minister Yariv Levin also slammed Amnesty’s report.
“No force in the world will change the simple historical truth – the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We will fight this despicable anti-Semitic decision. No one can boycott Israel or parts of it,” he said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Any further crackdown on Amnesty would be part of a broader Israeli pattern of restricting the work of human rights defenders.
The mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was set to be renewed on 31 January, as it is every six months.
Ali Abunimah contributed research.
- Baruch Goldstein
- Seema Joshi
- Amnesty International
- Mark Dummett
- settler violence
- Kfar Adumim
- Khan al-Ahmar
- Maaleh Adumim
- Eli Cohen
- Palestinian Authority
- Area C
- City of David
- Golan Heights
- Al Jazeera English
- Gilad Erdan
- Yariv Levin
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH)
- Ibrahimi Mosque
- Oslo accords